Beekeeper stung by thefts
Detail of bees on their hive on the rooftop of the Tour d'Argent restaurant overlooking the River Seine in Paris September 24, 2010. (Reuters/JACKY NAEGELEN)
High honey prices and a local decline in bee populations are thought to be behind the theft of $60,000 worth of honeybees from Teepee Creek, Alta.
“Basically, they harvested my hives for the frames with brood (the eggs and larva) and bees, and left me with a couple of frames on the outside with bees on it,” beekeeper Bill Termeer said. “It looked like a normal hive because they put replacement comb back in.
“I think they thought they could get away with it and it certainly took us longer to sort of figure out what was going on.”
The well-concealed theft - in which each stolen frame full of Carniolan honeybees and their brood has been replaced with an empty frame in the rectangular beehive boxes - means about 150 of Termeer’s 3,000 hives will not produce any honey this year and stand little chance of surviving the winter.
Termeer’s employs a half-dozen beekeepers who monitor hives set up at 75 separate locations north of Grande Prairie. They first noticed the thefts in early June, “but didn’t really think theft at that point,” he said.
“They noticed something was amiss; they noticed a number of queenless hives,” he said. “Theft doesn’t occur very often, but if it does, they usually grab the whole hive and throw it on a truck. In this case, they spent a good hour in the yard.”
While the RCMP have yet to comment, Termeer believes someone with a knowledge of apiculture is behind the thefts, all at locations around Tepee Creek – an area where Termeer has observed 75% to 100% losses in some hives.
Cold winters, varroa mites and nosema spores have all impacted bee populations in the Peace Region in recent years, though Termeer said he wasn’t sure what the culprit may have been in the Teepee Creek area.
“Some beekeepers have had fairly high losses in the last number of years,” he said. “If your hive numbers are down and you’ve got huge loans to pay, you still have to have a cash flow.
“I can see a beekeeper in a desperate situation doing desperate things; I would much prefer a beekeeper like that would go to his neighbours and ask if they can help him in some way,” added Termeer, who’s posted a YouTube video documenting what’s happened.
The theft is certainly generating a buzz amongst other beekeepers, who normally focus around thieves of the four-legged variety.
“We always keep a close watch for bears – those are our biggest threat – but having to worry about someone stealing your bees too is a lot harder,” said Rodrigo Mendez, the Peace Region representative of the Alberta Beekeepers Association.
“Even though you have thousands of different frames and boxes, you know your stuff; you can tell which are yours. It’s something I’m going to have to keep my eyes open for and make sure I don’t miss that too. It’s something else to worry about; it’s not good at all.”
In an average year, theft by bears might result in the loss 20 or 30 hives, Termeer said. In most cases, the use of electric fences is effective at keeping bears at bay.
Mendez said it’s unusual for a beekeeper to acquire theft insurance, though it’s something Termeer is considering.
“I’ve asked my insurance agency for a quote; I’m thinking in the future I might need it,” he said with a laugh.
“I expect it to be quite expensive.”
The six-month beekeeping season is just now approaching a period of peak honey production and Alberta currently produces half of all the honey in Canada, Alberta Beekeepers Association president Terry Greidanus said.
It’s become a lucrative business too, with a standard wooden hive being worth anywhere from $200 to $400, depending on the volume of honey produced.
Until now, thefts of beehives have been rare, with just five incidents in Alberta over the past decade, said Medhat Nasr, Alberta’s chief beekeeper.